Exploring the Kvichak River in Alaska

Alaska is a destination for adventures of all sorts, from hiking and mountain climbing to dog sledding and whale watching. If your kind of adventure involves exploring the waterways and indulging in some recreational fishing, particularly fly fishing, then a trip to Alaska is most definitely in order. Alaska is home to some of the best fly fishing in the world, with large runs of salmon and mammoth rainbow trout swimming the freshwater streams and navigable rivers around the state. One of the most popular locations for fly fishing is along the Kvichak River, where numerous fishing lodges have sprung up to house the scores of avid fishermen who descend on the area annually.

The Kvichak River is actually a stream that flows southwest from Lake Iliamna, widening as it travels over 50 miles until it reaches Bristol Bay on the Alaskan Peninsula. Navigable for its entire length, the Kvichak River winds by a number of small communities, including Igiugig, Levelock and Kvichak at the mouth of the river. Surrounded by rich marshland, the Kvichak River is not only home to a host of salmon, rainbow trout and other fantastic fish but is also very close to other popular fishing streams. Many of the lodges offer float planes to transport you to nearby fly fishing only streams. You can fly over the Kvichak River on your way to these fish-rich waterways and enjoy the scenery and wildlife on the way.

Fishing the Kvichak
The Kvichak River is home to a wide variety of fish and, because it is the only connection between Lake Iliamna in the north and Bristol Bay, it is the main route for millions of salmon heading to the sea every year. This is why you will find so many fishing lodges built along the river. Naturally, the fly fishing opportunities are beyond compare.

The sport fishing season begins in Bristol Bay after the last of the winter ice moves out, usually sometime in June. Early June is an excellent time to fish for rainbow trout, the sailfish-like arctic grayling and the northern pike. The rainbow trout spotted during this part of the fishing seasons are large, up to 26 inches, and the fish are usually very active and aggressive because they have eaten so little all winter. If you are interested in dry fly fishing, this is a good time to plan a trip.

The middle of June brings the mythic king salmon, many averaging 30 pounds; these mammoth fish can be caught through the end of July. By the end of June, the sockeye salmon begin their run up the Kvichak to their spawning beds in the Iliamna drainage area. Fresh from the ocean, these salmon are on a mission and put up a grand fight when they are caught, making for a very exciting fishing trip.

By August, more salmon varieties begin to arrive, including chum, pink and silver salmon. Silver salmon are quite aggressive when on the line, and many fishermen prefer to catch them over other types of salmon for this reason. Also starting in August is the return of the rainbow trout. This is when the fish return to the Kvichak to prepare for winter, and the chances of catching a trophy-quality fish are very high. These fish fight hard when caught and are considered the best fighting sport fish in the world, pound for pound.

Safety on the Kvichak
If you are fly fishing along the Kvichak River, always exercise caution when in and around the water. It’s also wise to utilize the buddy system when fishing, and always fish with a friend or guide so that help is close if something does go wrong.

Wading into the water safely means that you need to know how deep the water is, how strong the current is and what the bottom of the river is like. Local guides can be very useful in this regard as they know these rivers intimately and can advise on the safest places to fish. Always wear a personal floatation device and dress appropriately, including high-top waders. In the event that someone falls into the river, swimming out to save the person should be a last resort. Instead, reach with a long object, such as an oar or tree limb; throw them a life preserver or boat cushion, or row to them in a boat if possible. Finally, always handle your fishing equipment responsibly; be careful when casting, and do not leave tackle lying on the ground.

Fly fishing along the Kvichak River is an exciting and rewarding opportunity for fishermen of every skill level. If catching huge salmon or trout is your kind of adventure, a trip to the Kvichak is a must.

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